My Family’s Place in History

By: Jason Scott

Research Question

How did African Americans combat harsh economic, government, and racial discrimination in 1945-1980?

Final Thesis

African Americans combated economic, government, and racial discrimination during 1945- 1980 by forming black empowerment movements, creating headway in the African American job market, and setting a higher precedence for their community. This was accomplished by African Africans obtaining higher employment positions, entrepreneurship, and unified civil right movements demanding racial equality.

Historical Context

The black community in America as a whole lacked the appropriate level of stature needed to be treated as an equal in America. This low level of respect from America towards the black community came in forms of segregation, disregard to voting rights, environmental racism, employment rejection, etc.., but in late 1945 the black community gained a new face in the eyes of America.

African Americans had heavily participated in World War II which gave them a "sense" of equality due to their rare opportunity of partially participating equally in the united war effort. The strong presence of nationalism across America due to the Allied powers victory in World War II also greeted Black Americans. World War II provided the black community in America with jobs and partial respect from those outside of their community. This partial respect towards the black communities resulted from their valor and commitment for their country demonstrated by their war effort participation. The main success from the black communities participation in the war effort was the integration of the United States Army in 1948.

Although blacks were making progress at the beginning of this era it didn't bring them to equality at the slightest. All blacks in America were suffering under Jim Crow Laws; this subjected their community to harsh environmental racism, and many barriers revoking common human rights for blacks. The challenge for blacks to end mass segregation in the United States was the main focus of this era as many blacks achieved institutional integration in the U.S. during this era. African Americans such as Jackie Robinson who integrated Major League Baseball joined the highly coveted list of blacks who achieved segregation. Blacks creating a presence of equality in America allowed mass media and the public to change their perceptions of the black race; this is because if blacks achieve the same feats as whites, they are perceived as equals.

In 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans marked the end of educational racial segregation in the United States. This alone not only lifted a dark veil of hopelessness from the African American community, but reassured them of economical progress. As Sir Francis Bacon stated, "knowledge is power" and that power is the ability to withhold higher employment positions, obtain political control, and to set oneself on an equal pedestal as that of the oppressor. This advanced the Black Nationalist Moment allowing more blacks to unify and obtain control of their environment, and allowed African American employment to have a steep and exponential rise during this era.

The constant suffering of African Americans due to continuation of Jim Crow Laws only contributed to the massive build of animosity towards the United States government by the African American community. This animosity was fuel for the wave of iconic black civil rights movements during this era. Such as the famous civil rights leader Rosa Parks refusal of bus segregation, year long Montgomery bus boycotts leading to desegregation, "Little Rock Nine", and the "Freedom Riders" (These events occurred in 1955 - 1961). The black community was striking back at their oppressors and making actual progress which is the fundamental reason why this era is considered a turning point in American history. Blacks now had a significant portion of their human rights in America allowing them to unify in protest of their current hindering situations. In 1963 Martin Luther King presented his forever echoing "I have a dream" speech; this demanded racial equality. The significance of this date and event dose not primarily lie with Martin Luther himself, the significance of this event resides in the attendance of his speech. 250,000 people attended Martin Luther Kings speech, and the African American community lived by it.

During this era the unification of the black community grew stronger which only served to fortify their efforts in seek for racial equality. This strong bond formed the Black Power movement; a sector of the Black Nationalist movement. During the 1960's these movements acted at their peak such as the Black is Beautiful movement which sought to end physical appearance discrimination by race. The primary goal of the many movements residing from the Black Nationalist movements was to uplift the stature of African Americans. These movements showed America that the black community no longer had a tolerance for racial discrimination, and the best example of this resides in the Black Panthers practices. This group formed in 1966 used their second amendment to intimidate police officers from unlawfully killing, arresting, and attacking blacks; this was a non violent civil rights movement. This combination of civil rights movements aiming for racial equality defined this era, as blacks gained legal racial equality. This came in the form of President Johnson in 1967 appointing Thurgood Marshall (First black Supreme Court Justice) giving blacks a prominent face in politics, the abolition of Jim Crow Laws in 1970, and The Supreme Court case in 1978, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke qualifying affirmative action in the United States.

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Primary Source Documents and Significance

African Americans living during the Black Nationalist Party were presented with a new code of ethics to uplift themselves and their community, (Digital History). Much of this was found through the rise of the Black Muslim's in the 1960's, (Digital History). The presence of this new force in the African American Community gave blacks prominent leaders such as Malcom X, a single motive of obtaining racial equality, a stronger drive and or want to create business, and a unifying code of ethics to gain a respected presences, (Digital History).

The Black Nationalist movement is the base for primarily all unifying civil right movements. The main purpose of the these movements which came from the Black Nationalist Party was to create unity, or in other words to create a political stance the entire African American Community could rally behind, (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). As stated by the Encyclopedia Britannica Online the Black Nationalist Party, " sought to acquire economic power and to infuse among blacks a sense of community and group feeling." As primarily everyone inside the African American community during this era was oppressed the Black Nationalist Party fit its audience perfectly. It promised excel through unification of the black community, and because of its appeal to its demographic unification was created and actions towards mass protest were created. One of the other primary goals of the Black Nationalist Party was to preserve the African American Identity and to avoid conformity to the social norm (White American societal practices), (Encyclopedia Britannica Online).

The black community has been under harsh oppression in mass for centuries in America which sets the the primary ideology of the African American in America as one seeking, "opportunities for intellectual, economic, political self-determination and autonomy", (Black Power). In communities as impoverished as black communities in this particular era knowledge among is seen as rare. This equates to the reason why black scholars such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King is seen as rare, (Black Power). The black community in america wanted advancement and the way achieve was to strengthen their communities physical format and ideological format within, (Black Power). One of the primary goals of the Black Nationalist movement was holding on to culture and not conforming and adapting, (Black Power). And with a community so desperate for economic, social, and political, growth the formation the massive faith it held on the Black Nationalist Party is deemed piratical as it was the main initiative to end segregation.

The notion of Black Pride and holding on to culture was taken vary literately throughout the Black Nationalist Movement which influenced the African American community in the era heavily. Throughout this movement and of course in this era one of the main themes was going "back to your roots"; Africa, (Oxford AASC). Many blacks in the Black nationalist Party practiced this in many forms which varied on their interpretation of the movement. A respectable population of blacks migrated to Africa as an escape for oppression received in the United States, and an emergence of primal or true culture, (Oxford AASC). Other blacks in the Black Nationalist movement formed their own towns, "Black Town" this resided off an autonomic ideology consisted in the Black Nationalist Party, (Oxford AASC).An African American preserved nationalistic identity is the main structure of the Black Nationalist Party, and the reason for its effectiveness in unification, (Oxford AASC).

My Grandfather Ronald Irving Leigh owned an African art gallery in Cleveland Heights; a middle class suburb. He was also a member in a seven man African Art group called the, "Sho-Nuff Art Group", (African American Art). In these affiliations he provided and sold numerous pieces of African Art, merchandise, and literature, (African American Art). He provided employment for the black community of Ohio, and a deeper exploration of knowledge for the black community of Ohio,(African American Art). My Grandfather was strongly affiliated with the Black Nationalist Party, and an avid participant in the economic, and social advancement of the black community in America. Many of the Black Muslim influences of high Etiquette , composer, and primal African roots that were heavy in the Black community during this time period resided in my Grandfather.

Ronald Ivring Leigh was interviewed by Lori Sharn from USA TODAY to report and/or account for his affiliation with the Million Man March, (Sharn). Ronald Leigh was the president of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Million Man March. Ronald Leigh helped plan, fortify, organize, and run the Million Man March, (Sharn). Ronald Leigh stated,"Before the march it was great because we all had a common goal: to make the march successful", (Sharm). This gives proof to my Grandfathers actual involvement in the Black civil rights, and Black Nationalist Party Movement.

Ronald Leigh was a prominent figure in his black community, and a prominent black civil rights figure in his state of Ohio as he accomplished owning his own profitable business, and being the first Black General Manager in Ohio, (Ronald: 1975). This act gave my grandfather the name of integrating the occupational field in Ohio, (Ronald: 1975). With Jim Crow Laws vanishing in the 1970's my grandfather used his new gained human right in America to obtain a high occupational position in the United States, (Ronald: 1975). This act allowed him to bring wealth to his Black Community, start civil rights based organizations, and strengthen the overall economy in Black America, (Ronald: 1975).

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Outside Historical Evidence

In Tulsa, Oklahoma one of the most profitable "Black Towns" in American history emerged in 1910 despite of racial discrimination pointed towards blacks in this time period. Black Nationalism started in the beginning of the 1900's, and the goal was simply African American advancement in the United States. This movement brought out numerous political protest, strong nationalistic ideology, and profitable infrastructures with a primarily African American demographic; "Black Towns". Tulsa is the best example of these "Black Towns" as it was named infamously the "Black Wall Street" due to its outstanding economic growth, and public development. Tulsa consisted of a primarily black population that thrived economically. The black community in Tulsa consisted of doctors, lawyers, realtors, and other diverse black professionals. This town or the "Black Wall Street" showed perseverance over its countries oppressive government (Jim Crow Laws), flourished economically through unification and Black Nationalist ideology, reversed their previous environmental racism by advancing the infrastructure around them, and combating racial discrimination by isolating their community inside a sustainable economy. Although the town was looted, burned, and had inhabitants slaughter by white supremacist in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 the remaining Tulsa citizens who survived rebuilt and continued to flourish up until 1960's.


Women in America during 1840 - 1920 fought heavily for gender equality through various forms of protest, and uniting on singular ideologies as an oppressed gender. One of the main human rights sought after by Women in America during this time period was the right to vote as this was the quintessential link between them and government/political power; with government/political power rights are gained/achieved. In 1848 Seneca Falls, New York the First Women Rights convention was held. This marked a turning point in history as the oppressed female gender came together and formed a unified political body. In 1869 the National Woman Suffrage Association was formed demanding women's right to vote, and in the same year The territory of Wyoming passed the first women's suffrage law marking a incline point in the success of their movement.

Women during this era and in the previous era were constantly undergoing oppression. Women were cut out of almost all occupations only to be a house wife and a caretaker. This predetermined life is primal reason that sparked the revolt in the American female community against the current societal regime. Women had no power in the work force, nor any power in their government rending them helpless and severely dependent on men. Women were branded as weak, unintelligent, and incapable of "real" work. This is the exact reason why the gender equality movement targeted voting rights as that is the key to accessing their voice in government.

In 1913 not only did Women gain more states that granted their ability to vote, but they received an occupational booming. During World War I many jobs were granted open to women due to the vacancy caused by the strictly male draft. This is occupational opportunity that granted women experience in nursing, manufacturing, medicine, travel, etc.. Women took part in the navy and in the marines providing with vast economic growth, independence, and a new social outlook. In 1920 Women were gained their full right to vote in America, this marked a prominent turning point in American history as now women were not only seen as independents due to the war effort, but had gained all of their basic human rights.

The mass migration of Irish immigrants to Northeast America due to the Great Famine in Ireland 1840 marked a new member target for racial discrimination in America. Irish were rejected for numerous reason, but one of the most famous reasons for Americas heavy distaste for the Irish was due to their religious practices. Irish followed Catholic faith and the American community in the Northeast portrayed their religion as, barbaric, sinful, unjust, evil, etc... This lead to the mass racial discrimination towards the Irish. The Irish yearned for work and economic enlightenment, which was very hard to obtain due to the strong hatred of their kind in the area they resided; similar to black communities in the south. They were called derogatory terms such as, "biddys" and "paddys" which only drew their community closer in unification in search for social, and economic relief.

During the Civil War the Irish began to have socially, economically rewarding opportunities. This is due to their participation in the union war effort as they were fighting side by side those in their community and were provided with jobs. After the Civil War the Irish gained forms of respect as the war allowed them to create common interests, goals, and beliefs of those that they migrated with. Also more economic economic enlightenment was presented to them after the war as the Railroad Expansion provided jobs for their entire community. This new birth of wealth entering the Irish communities who had the unified notion of obtaining work now had the opportunity to create infrastructure and grow their communities as a whole.

Work Cited

1940 United States Federal Census for Ronald Leigh. Digital image. 1940 United States Federal Census for Ronald Leigh. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Yet Still We Rise : African American Art in Cleveland, 1920-1970 :: General." Yet Still We Rise : African American Art in Cleveland, 1920-1970 :: General. Cleveland Memory Project, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Leigh, Ronald: 1976 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland." Leigh, Ronald: 1976 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland. Cleveland Memory Project, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

Leigh, Ronald: 1977 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland. Digital image. Leigh, Ronald: 1977 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland. Cleveland Memory Project, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

Leigh, Ronald: 1975 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland. Digital image. Leigh, Ronald: 1975 :: Notable Blacks of Cleveland. Cleveland Memory Project, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

Sharn, Lori. "Cleveland Stumbles on Path to Change." Cleveland Stumbles on Path to Change. USA TODAY, 10 Oct. 1996. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Digital History." Digital History. Digital History, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Black Nationalism." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Black Nationalism and Black Power." A Bibliography The Negro in America(n.d.): n. pag. Black Nationalism and the Call for Black Power. Web. 15 May 2016.

"Black Nationalism and Independence Movements." Oxford AASC: Focus On. Oxford AASC, n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.